Column: Talking Tech

Google Cultural Institute

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 1.13.26 PM.pngGoogle Cultural Institute includes art and artifacts from all over the world

Google Cultural Institute sprang from the Google Art Project – a proposal to digitize the world’s art collections by allowing online visitors to stroll through a virtual museum the same way you use Street View to visualize a journey. Since then, the project has expanded to include Historic Moments and World Wonders projects, using maps, photographs and more to explain and instruct.

Art Project
You can still take a virtual stroll through the Louvre, but Google has worked with museums to sort and categorize their collections, creating a searchable database where students and teachers can view artworks in high-resolution. Works are accompanied details and descriptions to explain their meaning and history (as I tell my students, just like those little plaques that hang next to the paintings in the museum) as well as give information for citations. Links take students back to the original source where they can find more details and download images if they want to make copies.

The technology allows students to zoom in for a closer look, examining the brushstrokes on a Van Gogh, or to find each dot on Seurat’s “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte.” If you got this close in real life, the alarms would go off.

Historic Moments
In this section Google and its partners have created online exhibits about “significant moments in human history…using documents, photos videos and in some cases personal accounts of events.” The project includes digital versions of existing exhibits as well as ones created and developed especially for the site, with partners ranging from the George C. Marshall Organization, to the Anne Frank House to the Computer History Museum.

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 1.15.42 PM.pngThe Historic Moments section includes exhibits curated by museums

World Wonders
This project teams Google with UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. bringing Google’s Street View technology to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites. Visit a world heritage site, and you can take a virtual tour of the site, read an article describing it’s importance, and view related artworks and artifacts, collected from museums around the world. For example, the exhibit devoted to the Giza Necropolis will let you take a tour around the Sphinx, and then look at photographs of archeological digs in the LIFE Photo Collection.

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 1.18.17 PM.pngThe Versailles entry lets you read about the palace and look at some of its art before taking a virtual walk through the gardens

How would you use it in class?

The original Google Art Project was clearly a boon to art educators. But by expanding beyond traditional art works, the Google Cultural Institute can be a valuable resource for a variety of teachers and subjects.

History teachers should find the site especially useful. Students can locate images and primary sources for research on the fall of the Berlin Wall or learn about the codebreakers at Bletchley Park.

The search functions can get even more specific: a student studying scientific innovations in Ancient China can comb the entire database, narrowing the search to  items from China in 1600 BCE to find an example of Bronze metalwork from the Sanzingdui Museum.

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 1.20.36 PM.pngUse the search tools to help students find artifacts from a particular time and place they are studying.

And it’s not just for upper level research. Younger students researching volcanoes might browse through UNESCO’s Pompeii exhibit and look at relics from the ancient city while American History researchers take a virtual tour of the Liberty Bell.

Sixth grade students at H.C. Crittenden Middle School in Byram Hills have used the site for their year-long nation research, said librarian Barbara Bathelemes. While not all her students used the tool, those who did “loved it.”

Margaret Kane Schoen is a librarian at Newton South High School

Author Interview: Lisa Papademetriou

LisaPap
Author Lisa Papademetriou (Photo courtesy of Random House)

“I was always a writer and I knew I wanted to write for children, but people said it was impossible, that I’d never make a living doing that, so I went into ‘editorial’ instead”. While working at Alloy, editing mass market paperbacks for younger audience (e.g. Sweet Valley High), Lisa Papademetriou noticed that SOME people DO make a living writing for children and she dropped out of business school to pursue her real passion and become a New York Times bestselling author.

Her original intention was to be a fantasy writer, but people asked her to “write those funny stories you tell about when you were in high school”, so she ended up writing contemporary, middle grade realistic fiction.  Her most recent series, Confectionately Yours, has a substantial fan base at my middle school as does Middle School: My Brother is a Big Fat Liar, which she co-wrote with James Patterson.cupCAKE

Her new book A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic will be released in October 2015. Two middle school aged girls, one in Texas and one in Pakistan, each find a blank book.  They do not know each other, but what they write in their book gets seen by the other girl on the other side of the world…AND the book itself has a story to tell too! The idea was inspired by her MFA Thesis on the ‘concept of destiny’ which she says is the story we tell ourselves that makes our lives have meaning.

In addition to writing books, poems and short stories,  Lisa has a hilarious website for teaching grammar: Ivana Correctya http://www.ivanacorrectya.com/ and an app, Grammarous.

Ellen Brandt is the school librarian at Blanchard Middle School in Westford

Author Interview: Sarah Albee

Did you know that a certain sea snail which “secretes a snot-like substance that turns different colors when exposed to sunlight” was used to dye the Phoenicians’ fabric? That corsets in the late 1800’s could exert 88 pounds of force on the internal organs?

Have you heard of a crossing sweeper? Not a crossing guard, a crossing sweeper. A crossing sweeper who swept muck and the thirty pounds of daily horse manure out of the way when a fine lady or gentleman crossed the street in the early nineteenth century.

Have you heard of Venus Cloacina? Not the goddess of love but the Roman goddess of sewers.

Can you explain how the mosquito contributed to the Louisiana Purchase? Or why the first early European settlers of Florida slept buried in sand?

If you’ve read any of Sarah Albee’s browsable non-fiction you could probably answer yes.

But to read Why’d They Wear That?, Bugged, and Poop Happened is more than snacking on fascinating friend-stumping trivia. It is to feast on fabulously original takes on history.

Why’d They Wear That?: Fashion as the Mirror of History gives the readers a glimpse into the moral, social and political climates of the time.  Poop Happened: A History of the World from the Bottom Up examines the public health consequences of sanitation choices as societies navigate waste disposal. Bugged: How Insects Changed History combines history, microbiology, epidemiology and conservation to explain the impact of living with ten quintillion insects.

Sarah Albee’s high appeal books with comprehensive content are no accident. Albee says she thinks like a twelve year old. All her books are structured chronologically because it is important to her to help kids make connections.

So the next time you don your fleece made from recycled plastic bottles, or you drink your milk that has been produced by a cow not stressed by too many flies, or you use toilet paper invented by the Chinese for emperor use only, you can remember Sarah Albee’s sideways takes on the world.

Samantha Kane is the Library Teacher at The Chestnut Hill School

Author Interview: M.T. Anderson

MTAnderson
Author M.T. Anderson shows off the MSLA chocolates given to him at the 2015 MSLA conference at UMASS Amherst

“I wish I hadn’t been,” author M.T. Anderson admits to the crowd of librarians, “So prescient, I mean.” Anderson grinned as he responded to a member of the audience who complimented his 2002 novel, Feed, a science fiction title for young adults that imagines a not-so-distant future in which most people have Internet-like feeds implanted directly into their brains. M.T. Anderson (“Also known as ‘Tobin!’” moderator Sandy Kelly informed session-attendees) a last-minute addition to the conference, enthusiastically sat in as a panel member on the Upper Grades Author Showcase Sunday afternoon. Afterward, he spoke with librarians at the Author Meet & Greet.

Feed, like all of Anderson’s novels, challenges readers to look at the world differently, or to think critically about humans’ interactions with and within society. The text satirically addresses consumerism, reliance on technology, factory farming, and other ills of the modern age. “I loved The Martian Chronicles when I was growing up,” Anderson explained, referring to the Ray Bradbury work. “I think [Bradbury’s] influence is evident in my writing. Yes, it’s science fiction, but it’s symbolically about America.” When I explained that I usually pitch Feed to teachers as “Kurt Vonnegut for iPhone-addicted teenagers,” he smirked. “Absolutely! Bradbury. Vonnegut, too. You can say a lot with satire.”

Anderson grew up in Stow, Massachusetts, and admits that being raised in bucolic New England greatly influences his writing style. “You see that in Octavian Nothing,” he explained. “I don’t know if I would have found that piece of history if I hadn’t grown up here.” His National Book Award-winning The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the Nation tells the story of Octavian, the son of a slave, growing up as an experiment of rational philosophers in Revolutionary War-period Massachusetts. “I saw battle reenactments at the 225th anniversary of the Battle of Old North Bridge, and thought, if I were alive when this happened, it would be my dad fighting. My family. We wouldn’t know who would be victorious. What would that be like? To grow up in that time of uncertainty?”

From science fiction, to historical fiction, Anderson is known for jumping genres. Feed is dystopian sci-fi; The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the Nation duo is historical fiction; and his first novel, Thirsty, is a coming-of-age vampiric horror story. For his next title, Anderson is jumping again—to non-fiction. “This one took years to research. I’m really excited about it,” Anderson explained.

This new book, Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad, tells the story of what life was like in Leningrad once it was cut-off from the rest of the world during one of the longest and most brutal military sieges in Western history. “There were roving bands of cannibals. No, really. It was horrific,” Anderson said. The book details how the composer Dmitri Shostakovich endured the siege while composing his Leningrad Symphony, a musical work which became prominent in the eventual Allied victory. He continued, saying “Shostakovich was evacuated. They smuggled his symphony out. It conveyed the horror of Leningrad to detached New Yorkers.”

So why jump to non-fiction rather than write a novel? “This is a case of the true story already being so strange and interesting,” Anderson explained. “It’s full of despair and hope. Why would I fictionalize it?” Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad will be published by Random House September 22nd, 2015.

Alana Stern is a Teacher Librarian at Wachusett Regional High School

Author Interview: Burleigh Mutén

miss-emily-220x300Burleigh Mutén  http://www.burleighmuten.com/ is the author of a middle grade verse novel, Miss Emily, which is about Emily Dickinson and the children she loved. The mischievous, playful Miss Emily invites her young friends to greet the circus train as it arrives in town, and a fresh image of Dickinson as an approachable, fun companion is offered to the reader.

Mutén has authored four other books for children, two about goddesses throughout the world and two collections of retold folktales.  She has twice been included on the Children’s Book Council Notable Social Studies Book for Young Children. She teaches creative writing to young authors and enjoys being a visiting author at elementary schools and teaching about Emily Dickinson as well as mythology.

This year at the MSLA conference in Amherst I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing author Burleigh Mutén.

According to Ms. Mutén, contrary to what many think, Emily Dickinson never retreated from the children in her life. When asked how she came up with the idea of writing a children’s book about Emily Dickinson, Ms. Mutén told me it all began as she investigated curriculum for her kindergarten class and discovered MacGregor Jenkins’ book, Emily Dickinson: Friend and Neighbor at the Jones Library in Amherst.  Jenkins grew up across the street from the Dickinsons and was a close friend with her niece and nephew.

“Most people don’t know that Emily was a devoted friend to the children in her neighborhood. She always made time for them and made them feel important.  When Emily saw children playing outside, she often joined their fantasies by providing sweet treats for the “pirates” and “gypsies” she found in her yard.  Miss Emily had a lot in common with the young children,” said Mutén,  “such as the fun of word play and a love for nature.”  As educators, we discussed how empowering it is for a child to have an adult really care and want to know who they are.

Ms. Mutén found the more she read about Dickinson, the more she wanted to know.  She said she’d been a private poet since high school, but felt emboldened to use her poet voice to tell this story. Through the book, Miss Emily, Mutén hopes the playful spirit of Emily Dickinson will interest and inspire young readers and writers.

Mutén said that “writing is a great way to process and organize your thoughts” and is a great activity to boost a child’s self-esteem. Children like Emily Dickinson’s writing because they relate to her interest in nature, and when they know it, her love of children. DIckinson’s use of seemingly random punctuation for example can give some children freedom to say what they want to say without worrying about rules.

When asked what is next for her, Mutén told me that she will be retiring from classroom teaching at the end of this year.  While she will miss her students and teaching, she is looking forward to staying connected to children and the writing of children by teaching more creative writing workshops and author visits at elementary schools. She’s also excited about learning more about Emily and sharing her knowledge as a guide at the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst.

Kelly McManus is the Media Specialist at Groton Dunstable Regional High School

School Librarians = Self-directed Learners: Resources for Online Learning & PD

In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists. ~ Eric Hoffer

Keeping up with the continuous changes within our profession is a challenging yet vital task. As this quote from Eric Hoffer indicates, school librarians must find ways to continue to develop professionally not only to remain relevant, but also to ensure their role as educational leaders within their school communities. To do so, school librarians must be the models of what we encourage and hope our students develop into: independent, self-directed, lifelong learners. While traditional professional development models can be limiting because of scheduling conflicts, topics that are not of interest, distance or cost, any self-directed learner with access to the Internet has many options for relevant, worthwhile free or inexpensive professional development as well as the opportunity to connect and collaborate with and learn from peers and thought leaders in the field. The opportunity to pursue your own learning on your own time is more accessible than ever!

Twitter

Twitter has revolutionized professional development. At any time, Twitter offers access to the knowledge, advice and resources being shared by colleagues around the world. While Twitter is an amazing place to learn about new resources and professional information and articles, one of the best uses of Twitter for professional development is Twitter chats. Twitter chats offer the opportunity to connect with peers in real time to participate in online, focused discussions with school librarians and other educators. Twitter chats are a perfect vehicle for developing an online Professional Learning Network with innovative and inspiring colleagues from across the country and beyond. There are educational Twitter chats happening every day. Use this handy Twitter chat calendar created by Richard Byrne or this Education Chats on Twitter list to see when different educational chats take place. The Massachusetts School Library Association’s #MSLA Twitter chat takes place from 8-9pm on the second Tuesday of each month. Check out the schedule of upcoming #MSLA chats as well as the archives of past chats to see what colleagues have been discussing and sharing. New to Twitter? Find information about how to get started here. To get the most out of Twitter, consider using a tool such as Tweetdeck  or Hootsuite to set up columns for following specific hashtags such as #MSLA #TLChat, #edtech, #tlelem, #edchat and others for a direct connection to many of the today’s educational thought leaders.

edWeb

edWeb is a professional social and learning network that offers educators the opportunity to not only connect with colleagues with similar professional interests, but also to participate in free professional development webinars. edWeb is organized by communities of interest. Once a member joins a community they will receive notice of upcoming related webinars. One community of interest to librarians is LMC @ The Forefront: A Collaborative Community for Library Professionals. Some of the webinars are vendor-sponsored, however all of the webinars are led by school library leaders and offer valuable information on school library topics. For example recent school library-related live webinars included Dynamic Databases: Revolutionizing Today’s Research, Teaching, and Learning presented by Joyce Valenza, and Makerspaces: The Now Revolution in School Libraries presented by Leslie Preddy. Community members not able to participate in the live webinar are able to view these webinars at any time; and a list of archived webinars is also available.

eCOLLAB

Are you a member of AASL? If so you have access to a valuable professional development resource, eCOLLAB. AASL members or eCOLLAB subscribers have access to upcoming and archived webinars on a variety of school library topics presented by leaders in the school library profession. There are a number of upcoming webinars scheduled through June including Transforming Teaching and Learning With Digital Tools by Melissa Jacobs Israel and School Library Collaborations: Making Them Work to Improve Student Achievement with Charles Hockersmith.

TL Virtual Cafe, #TLChat and TL News Night

Connect and collaborate with some of the most innovative thought leaders in the school library profession! TL Virtual Cafe hosts “conversations about teacher-librarians, educational technology, and collaborative connections to facilitate meaningful and lifelong learning skills.” Upcoming events include Makerspaces with Shannon Miller & Diana Maliszewski, Telling Your Story with Elissa Malespina, and Classroom Cribs with Erin Klein & Al Juliani. Join #TLChat on Twitter on the 2nd Monday of the each month at 8pm. Also, check out TL News Night on the 3rd Monday of each month with archives available.

WebJunction

OCLC’s WebJunction features free webinars on a variety of library-related topics presented by leaders in the field. Certificates of completion are available upon completion of the webinar.

Booklist Online and SLJ Webcasts

Booklist Online and SLJ Webcasts offer a variety of webinars (including archives of past webinars) on new and subject specific book titles, literacy topics, digital resources and more, usually sponsored by publishers.

Some of the free webinar offerings are often sponsored by or underwritten by publishers or other vendors so keep that in mind when viewing the content.

Want to take an education course or learn something new just for fun? There are many opportunities to do so online. Try an online course or MOOC through what I think are some of the best quality online learning sites (listed below). Happy Learning!

Annenberg Learner seeks to advance the art of teaching through more than 100 multimedia courses and workshops. Graduate credit is available for a fee.

EdX connects learners to interactive online classes and MOOCs from the world’s best universities, colleges and organizations.

Canvas Network offers free, online courses taught by educators.

Coursera is an education platform that offers free online courses from top universities and organizations from around the world.

MIT OpenCourseWare is a web-based publication of virtually all MIT course content.

Open Culture provides access to online courses, MOOCs, content and more.

Open Yale Courses includes lectures and other materials from selected Yale courses.

Udacity provides mostly free technology courses developed in collaboration with industry experts such as Google and Facebook. Fee-based courses for credit are also available.

WebCast.Berkeley provides online video and audio content from UC Berkeley courses.

And don’t forget Google Video, iTunesU, SchoolTube, and YouTube or YouTubeEdu for online courses or quick instructional videos.

Amy Short is the Assistant Director of Library Media for the Cambridge Public Schools

Author Interview: Laura Harrington

Author Laura Harrington (right) and Interviewer Laura Gardner

Meeting Laura Harrington was such a treat! Laura is a playwright who took a risk and published her first novel, Alice Bliss, to great acclaim. It was chosen as one of the Best Books of the Year by School Library Journal in 2011. Alice is the story of a small town girl who is forced to grow up fast when her father joins the armed forces and is deployed to Iraq. Laura calls Alice Bliss a “classic coming of age story” with deeper layers about the sacrifices people make around war time. The fact that such a small percentage of our population truly endures these wars has “haunted [her] writing”

Laura did extensive research on teens whose parents are in the military for the book and found that “they feel they are invisible.” She shared that the theme that drives most of her work are “parts of culture that are hidden.” The biggest inspiration for her book was Our Town by Thornton Wilder because she was interested in how a community comes together, but she was also inspired by the recent passing of her father and says “love and grief for my dad are all over this book.” She was pleased to write a father/daughter story because she thinks they are too rare.

Interestingly, although the novel is told in third person, the book is also written in present tense so “you’re in every point of view in the book.” Laura shared that “as a playwright who has been writing monologues and dialogues that was comfortable” for her. She also shared that she thinks this “gives a point of entry for readers to understand experiences of others.” For example, she went on, “a fifteen year old might see what her mother is going through.”  When I asked about my favorite character in the book, Alice’s best friend (and possible romantic interest) Henry, Laura said that “Henry showed up unexpectedly” and her daughter had a friend like Henry.

Laura experienced quick success with Alice. Laura related, “the book took a year to write, sold quickly and did well.” She is working to create a musical on the book and has the first major workshop coming up this month in April.

When I asked Laura what it was like to try writing something new after a long career as a playwright, she said it was “scary and exciting,” but that having family and friends cheering her on was helpful and the response was “amazing.” Her work habits as an author have remained the same as her playwriting days – “word counts don’t help” and she had actually never heard of that method until talking to other authors. If she’s working on a project then she goes to the gym first thing and then works from 9 am until she makes dinner at the end of the day. She takes breaks, but says “you have to stick around and fight distractions.”

Laura is hard at work on her next book, A Catalogue of Birds, which Laura describes as a book about a brother and sister who experience “the damage that comes from war and PTSD and how we try to save the ones we love.”

Laura has been volunteering at a middle and high school for a few years and is interested in school visits related to her book. She believes Alice “cries out to be paired with other books” and suggests The Kite Runner to explore the impact of war on teens and families and Catcher in the Rye to compare coming of age stories.  I highly recommend Alice Bliss and think Laura would be an excellent author to invite to high schools to talk about her work.

Laura Gardner is the Teacher Librarian at Dartmouth Middle School

Author Interview: Mordicai Gerstein

Mordicai Gerstein is the author/illustrator of dozens of books, and he has also written or illustrated more than a dozen others.

  • What are you working on now?

I just began final illustrations on The Sleeping Gypsy about  the painting with the same name by French painter Henri Rousseau. I’ve known the painting since I was a kid. My mother made a scrapbook for me, and one of the images she cut out and put in the book was The Sleeping Gypsy. I was fascinated with what was going on in the picture, such as What’s the lion eating? The book is about what I imagine is going on in that picture.

Gerstein

I am also working on a story about a whale and a graphic novel on the Greek God, Pan. Pan was big during the Victorian era. I remember reading about Pan in a work by Rudyard Kipling.

  • What influenced you when you were a child to lead to what you do today? (books, tv shows, movies, other media?)

Everything. I was an avid reader.  I loved Alice in Wonderland and Mary Poppins and reading natural history: about animals, whales, deep sea divers, African explorers.  I think books generate books. I like to recycle old stories. I loved the Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling,  and my first book was about a wild child (Arnold of the Ducks), who was raised by ducks.

  • Do you do school visits? If so, what is your favorite part of visiting a school?

Yes. I love the presentations and the connections with the kids. It’s amazing that I can do it because I was never a public speaker. I draw, and kids are always spellbound. I talk a lot these days about the power of imagination and getting in touch with what your stories are. Imagination is invisible until you write it down. When you hold a book in your hand you are holding the author’s imagination.

  • How did you start writing children’s books? Can you speak about how as an artist you came to both illustrate and write the stories?

I had no intention of becoming a writer but always drew and painted. In art school I took a cartooning class then landed a job at UPA, an animation studio specializing in flat, two-dimensional animation – not Disney like. They sent me to New York to work on commercials.  In New York all of the abstract expressionists were there, and Elizabeth Levy, a mystery writer,  asked me to illustrate her books. She showed publishers my sketches, and they asked me to illustrate her series (Something Queer is Going On; Something Queer in the Library etc.). I wanted to write my own book, but I had no confidence in my writing. It took me ten years until I wrote Arnold of the Ducks. After that the floodgates were open. Writing helped me find out what was lurking in my mind. I wrote another duck book, called Follow Me,  set in China about lost ducks finding their way home. Then I did a book called The Room then Prince Sparrow, and they just kept coming.

  • Your art is different from book to book. Different styles. Can you talk about that?

Each story is its own and I have to find the style that is best for the story. For Mountains of Tibet I wanted to do it in a style of mandalas (circular design). The colors and the shape all help tell the story.

I did a non-fiction picture book about a wild child raised by wolves found in France in the 1800’s. I approached this work and others first with pen and ink then I might use oil, mixed media, or acrylics.

  • What advice do you have for aspiring writers and artists?

Write, write, write.  Get your work out! Find other writers, a work group to share your writing, and get critiques. Get feedback and expose your work to as many people as you can. My advice is the same for illustrators. It important to be persistent.

  • What are your strategies for when you struggle with your writing or illustrating?

Keep going at it. Try it from different angles until you find a solution. With writing sometimes a book can take years, some weeks, some months. Once at a conference  I read a chapter of a new book, and after reading it MT Anderson came to me and asked me “What happens next?!” I said “I do not know because I haven’t finished it.” Some books take years. Sometimes you have to get out of the way of your mind. Let the story reveal itself.

Deeth Ellis is the Head Librarian at Boston Latin School

Author Interview: Jeff Mack

Mack
Author Jeff Mack and Interviewer Rebekah Tierney

I will do my best to make the rest of this article professional, but I have to digress to fangirl mode for a moment. I’ve totally developed a literary crush on Jeff Mack. Now that’s out of the way, we can move on…

I work as a high school librarian, so prior to choosing Jeff Mack as an interview subject, I wasn’t very familiar with his work. I had seen some of his books before, mostly in passing, but I had never had the chance to really read any of his work or use his material with a class. I brushed up on my subject a bit; did some googling, Internet stalking, all the usual stuff and found out that this Jeff Mack guy seemed pretty interesting. Despite some nerves, I was definitely looking forward to interviewing him. After creeping about a bit (are you sensing a pattern here?), and waiting for a break in his signing, I approached Jeff. He was very affable and immediately put me at ease. I had a few questions prepared, but they didn’t sound as clever out loud as they had in my head. Luckily, I was able to have a decent, unscripted conversation with Jeff and still manage to take some notes.

Apparently it all started with a snake and a hot dog bun. Yup, you heard that right. That was the first book illustration idea pitched to Jeff. Thankfully, it never came to fruition and Jeff has come a long way since that particular request. The first book Jeff illustrated was The Icky, Sticky Chameleon written by Dawn Bentley. Going back even farther than that, Jeff hails from Upstate New York and has been into robots and monsters for as long as he can remember. Of course, I pulled the Library card, forcing Jeff to plumb the depths of his memory for some early library recollections or stories. He came up with a great tale about his weekly trips to the library with his Grandmother, and the memory of a particular book. That book was On Beyond Zebra by Dr. Seuss. He recalls how Dr. Seuss created his own alphabet and bizarre creatures. Being very into monsters, young Jeff definitely identified with this book.

Another early influence was Mr. Cole, a middle school Art teacher. To this day, Jeff finds drawing a little easier than writing. Although drawing is a super-simplified term for the art that Jeff creates. One of his earliest books, Hush Little Polar Bear was done with acrylics, creating a lush texture and a dreamlike quality. Look! is an amazing book in which a gorilla and a boy battle old tech (books) with new tech (TV) and was illustrated using pencil and watercolors. The images were then scanned in along with book covers and interior pages to create a collage-style effect. In his newest book, Who Wants a Hug? the illustrations were created using digital artwork to create a silly, slapstick quality. Never one to be defined by a single art form, Jeff also writes and illustrates the Clueless McGee series for middle-grade readers. If you had not had the chance to examine the various art styles and forms employed by Jeff, I encourage you to take a visual tour through his works. You can’t help but to be impressed.

Jeff currently lives in Western Massachusetts and in between his art and writing, he takes the time to conduct school visits. His favorite age groups to visit are 2nd and 3rd grades. They are a great sounding board, and give unvarnished critiques of his work and ideas. If the kids don’t laugh at a story or idea, he knows not to use it. Sometimes, he even gets some ideas from the students. These visits are a great way to keep Jeff connected to his target audience, and get invaluable feedback. I love the idea that some of these students sitting there listening to Jeff could be inspired and grow up to illustrate and write books of their own. This may seem like a shameless plug, but if I were an elementary school librarian, I would love to have Jeff come and visit my students. I’m hoping he branches out soon into Young Adult and then I can justify a school visit of my own!

Any inconsistencies or errors in reporting are 100% my own fault. I interviewed Jeff casually in between signings, resulting in slightly haphazard notes. Speaking of notes, back to those clever interview questions I had prepared. I asked Jeff Mack what his favorite or most-used app was. Part of me was hoping that he would say Trivia Crack and we would immediately become opponents (and best friends). But alas, it was not to be. Jeff uses the Notes app the most; coincidence that I was using the Notes app as we spoke? There may be a chance for us to be best friends after all!

Rebekah Tierney is the librarian at Jeremiah E. Burke High School in Dorchester, Massachusetts.